KINSHASA (Reuters) - A plane carrying 19 passengers and five crew members has been missing in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for over ten hours, a senior civil aviation official in the vast central African country said on Wednesday.
"An Antonov-12 took off from Goma at 0800 GMT. It was expected to go to Kindu but the last contact we had with it was three minutes after takeoff and it has not arrived in Kindu," Raymond Sangara, head of the civil aviation authority in eastern Congo, told Reuters by telephone from Goma.
He said another aircraft sent to look for the plane had returned after finding nothing. Two United Nations helicopters also sent out to search came back by nightfall having found no signs of a crash, the world body said.
"We will continue the search tomorrow," Sangara said.
Kindu lies roughly 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Goma in a region of remote rolling hills and thick tropical forest.
A five-year civil war which ended in 2003 destroyed much of Congo's infrastructure. Planes are often the only way of covering huge distances in a country the size of Western Europe.
Ten people were killed earlier this month when an Antonov plane flown by a Ukrainian crew crashed into trees and caught fire near Congo's northeastern city of Kisangani.
At least 350 people were killed when an Antonov cargo plane crashed into a crowded market in the capital Kinshasa in 1996, while in December 2003 an Antonov-26 crashed into a market near the town of Boende, 600 km (375 miles) from Kinshasa.